Book Review: West With the Night, Beryl Markham

West With the Night is the autobiography of Beryl Markham, a pioneering aviator of pre WW2 Africa. This remarkable autobiography dates to 1942 and is so beautifully written that if you know someone who loves flying you should pick them up a copy. As usual, let me introduce the book by a few quotes:

From the time I arrived in British East Africa at the indifferent age of four and went through the barefoot stage of early youth hunting wild pig with the Nandi, later training race-horses for a living, and still later scouting Tanganyika and the waterless bush country between the Tana and Athi Rivers, by aeroplane, for elephant, I remained so happily provincial I was unable to discuss the boredom of being alive with any intelligence until I had gone to London and lived there a year. Boredom, like hookworm, is endemic.

Getting back to physics, another quote:

“‘And we rigged up a windsock.” He swung his arm in the direction of a slender pole whose base was surrounded by half a dozen flares. A the top of the pole hung a limp cylinder of cheap, white, “Americani” cloth looking a bit like an amputated pajama leg.

In such a breeze the cylinder ought to have been fully extended, but instead, and in defiance of the simplest laws of physics, it only dangled in shameless indifference to both the strength of the wind and its direction.

Moving closer, I saw the lower end had been sewn as tightly shut as needle and thread could make it, so that, as an instrument intended to indicate wind tendency, it was rather less efficient than a pair of whole pajamas might have been.

I explained this technical error of design to Ebert and, in the half-light of the oil torches, had the satisfaction of seeing his face relax into what I suspected was his first smile in a long, long time.

“It was the word sock,” he said, “that confused us. We couldn’t imagine a proper sock with a hole in its toe — not even a windsock!”


These quotes are from the first chapter of the book. It is so enjoyable that I’m putting the review up here without having properly read the book. I suppose that I should include a photograph of the author, but I’m having trouble getting photographs out of my new camera into my computer, so I’ll have to steal something from  Amazon which has the book used for 1 cent:
Beryl Markham with flying goggles

I suppose I should mention that there is some argument as to how much of her autobiography was written by her and how much was contributed by her third husband, Raoul Schumacher, a script writer for Paramount Studios, or possibly by Antoine de Saint Exupery, the famous writer and aviator, and yet another one of her lovers.

And for completeness, the quote from Hemmingway, written in a letter, should be included:

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West With The Night? …She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers … it really is a bloody wonderful book.”


Filed under book review, History

3 responses to “Book Review: West With the Night, Beryl Markham

  1. Pingback: Book Reviews

  2. It is, indeed, a good book, whoever wrote it, or pieces of it.

    Happy birthday, by the way!

    love from. Yr sister.

  3. Ceil Holley

    I loved the book so much that I have recommended it to my book club. Wonderful writing! Thank you.

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